Tips for Composting in Cold Climates and Winter Months

Starting composting in the winter may seem like a daunting task, especially if you live in a cold climate.

However, composting can be done throughout the year, even during the cold winter months.

In fact, composting in the winter has its advantages.

Not only does it help you manage organic waste, but it also provides you with compost to use for your spring garden.

In this article, I’ll provide you with tips and essential information to help you compost successfully, even during the cold winter months.

Let’s dive right in.

Choose the Right Materials

If you want to compost in cold climates and winter months, you need to choose the right materials. Not all organic material is made equal, and selecting the right stuff can make all the difference when it comes to making successful compost.

Types of Materials Suitable for Composting in Cold Weather

When it comes to cold weather composting, it’s important to select materials that are high in nitrogen, as these will help support bacterial growth. Suitable materials include:

Characteristics of Ideal Organic Materials for Cold Weather Composting

In addition to selecting high nitrogen materials, it’s also important to choose those that will decompose relatively quickly. This means that they should be relatively small in size and have a high surface area to volume ratio. Materials that may not be the best choice for cold weather composting include:

  • Animal products and by-products (e.g. meat, bones, dairy)
  • Large branches and woody material
  • Dry, brown material like leaves and straw

By selecting the right materials, you set your compost pile up for success and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden.

Consider Your Composting Method

Deciding on a composting method is essential for year-round composting, especially if you live in a cold climate. Here are the three most popular composting methods you can consider:

Traditional Backyard Composting

This is the most common method and involves making a compost pile in your backyard. You can build the pile with leaves, sticks, grass clippings, and other materials high in carbon and nitrogen. However, in winter, it’s important to ensure the compost pile stays warm, so it keeps breaking down. You can do this by wrapping the pile in a tarp or using a container that will hold heat.


This indoor composting method involves using worms to break down food scraps and other organic materials. It’s a great method for those who don’t have much space for an outdoor pile or live in an apartment building. One of the advantages of vermicomposting is that worms generate heat which can keep the compost warm enough to keep breaking down waste even in cold climates.

Bokashi Composting

This method involves fermenting food waste in an airtight container using inoculated bran. The process doesn’t produce heat, but it can be used year-round indoors. However, it’s worth noting that this type of composting doesn’t create soil-like compost and isn’t entirely odor-free, so it may not be suitable if you’re looking for soil enrichment or you are living in a small apartment.

Now that you know about the different composting methods available, you can consider which would work best for you and your lifestyle. Be careful to choose a composting method that will fit within your schedule, space, and available resources!

Protect Your Compost Pile from the Elements

Insulation is crucial to protect your compost pile during cold weather. This not only protects the microbes working to decompose your organic materials, but it also helps to increase the temperature and speed up the decomposition process.

One popular way to insulate your compost pile is to use hay or straw. Place a layer of hay or straw around the sides and top of your compost pile to help protect it from the cold. Other natural materials, like leaves, can also be used as insulation.

If you’re looking for a more creative solution, consider building an insulated compost bin. You can use materials like cinder blocks, straw bales, or even recycled pallets to create a cozy home for your compost pile.

Another way to protect your compost from the elements is by covering it. This helps to trap heat and moisture, keeping your organic materials at the ideal temperature and moisture level. A simple tarp or plastic sheeting can work well, but you can also use more natural coverings like pine needles or leaves.

Remember, it’s important to check your compost pile regularly to make sure it’s not too dry or too wet. You’ll want to adjust your insulation and covering as needed to ensure your compost is protected and thriving throughout the winter months.

By taking the time to protect your compost pile from the elements, you’ll ensure that come springtime, you’ll have nutrient-rich compost that’s ready to nourish your garden.

Monitor Temperature and Moisture Levels

Maintaining optimal temperature and adequate moisture are both crucial to successful winter composting. Aim for your compost pile to be between 110-150°F to ensure the decomposition process is taking place. Too hot, and you risk killing off the beneficial microorganisms, too cold, and the material will freeze and slow down the decomposition process.

To maintain optimal temperature: If compost temperatures start to dip below 110°F, add “hot” material such as fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, or manure. If the temperatures rise above 150°F, you will need to “cool” the compost down by turning it more often or adding dry materials such as leaves, straw, or other dry organic materials.

To ensure adequate moisture: Water is key to maintaining the right moisture content, which should be around 40% to facilitate the composting process. Winter composting can dry out quickly, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on your pile and water it as needed. To avoid watering too much, which can lead to anaerobic conditions, mostly wet materials such as food scraps, and fresh grass clippings should be avoided; balancing them with mostly dry materials like leaves, straw, and wood chips is essential.

By monitoring your compost pile’s temperature and moisture levels, you’ll be able to strike the perfect balance for optimal composting throughout the winter months.

Choose the Right Time to Turn Your Compost

Turning your compost pile is an important part of maintaining a healthy and productive garden. In cold weather, it’s essential to time your turning correctly to ensure your compost breaks down efficiently.

If you turn your compost pile too often or too early in the winter season, the compost could get too cold and stop decomposing. Conversely, if you leave it too long before turning, the compost can become too compact and turn into a frozen brick.

So, how often should you turn your compost pile in winter? It depends on a few factors, such as your geographic location, the size of your pile, and how often you add new materials. As a general rule, aim to turn your compost pile every four to six weeks during the winter.

In addition to timing, turning your compost pile at the right temperature is also essential. You want to turn it when it’s still warm enough to break down the materials effectively but not too hot that beneficial microbes die off. Compost temperatures between 90°F and 135°F are ideal.

The benefits of a well-timed turn are plentiful. Turning your compost pile aerates it, which allows oxygen to reach the beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that break down the organic materials. This oxidation process helps produce more heat and can kill off invasive weed seeds, harmful bacteria, and pathogens.

Overall, by choosing the right time to turn your compost pile in winter, you can generate rich soil amendments for your garden while avoiding common challenges associated with cold weather composting.

Follow Proper Food Scrap Management

Effectively managing food scraps is crucial to maintaining a healthy compost pile all year round, especially during the winter months. When adding food scraps to your compost in cold temperatures, it is important to keep in mind that decomposition will slow down.

To promote faster decomposition, it is recommended to chop food scraps into smaller pieces, as this creates more surface area for microbes to break down the material. Additionally, it is best to mix the scraps with other organic materials, such as leaves or straw, which will help keep the moisture and carbon-to-nitrogen ratios balanced.

While many food scraps are great for composting, there are some materials that should never be added, as they will cause problems and may attract pests. Avoid adding dairy products like milk and cheese, meat scraps, bones, and fats. Also, keep citrus peels and other acidic materials to a minimum, as they can change the pH of your compost pile.

To easily manage food scraps in winter, consider using an indoor compost bin. These bins are especially helpful if you live in an area with harsh winters, as they allow you to compost year-round without worrying about frozen scraps. Simply add your food scraps to the bin and let it work its magic!

Remember to never add cooked food scraps, as they can attract pests and take longer to break down. Instead, stick to vegetable and fruit scraps for best results.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to properly manage your food scraps and create a healthy compost pile throughout the winter months.

Troubleshooting Common Composting Issues in Cold Climates

Are you experiencing some unpleasant odours or finding unwelcome pests around your compost pile? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. These are unfortunately common issues in composting, but luckily they can be tackled effectively and naturally.

How to tackle smell and pests

If you’re experiencing a strong, unpleasant smell coming from your compost pile, it may be because it’s too wet or doesn’t have enough airflow. In this case, try adding dry materials such as leaves, straw, or shredded paper, and ensure good ventilation by turning the pile regularly.

Pests, such as rodents or flies, might also be attracted to your compost pile. To discourage them, avoid adding meat, dairy, or oily food scraps in your compost. Adding lime or wood ash can also help balance the pH levels and keep the pile less attractive to unwanted visitors.

Solutions to infrequent decomposition

Another common issue in winter composting is slow decomposition. This can be due to low temperatures, a lack of nitrogen-rich materials, or a small pile that doesn’t generate enough heat.

To solve this, consider adding more high-nitrogen materials such as grass clippings or vegetable scraps. This will help accelerate the decomposition process. Also, keep in mind that larger piles tend to generate more heat, so aim to have a pile that’s at least 3 cubic feet in volume.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to resolve the most common issues that arise when composting in cold climates and winter months. The key is to be patient and to make sure you’re providing your compost pile with the right conditions to thrive.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, composting in cold climates and winter months is a challenge but one that can be easily overcome.

Whether you choose traditional outdoor composting, vermicomposting, or bokashi composting, the key is to follow some basic guidelines.

Choose the right materials, consider your composting method, protect your compost pile from the elements, monitor temperature and moisture levels, follow proper food scrap management, and troubleshoot common composting issues.

Now the question is, which of these strategies are you going to try first?

I’d love to hear from you, so send me a message and let me know how it goes.

And if you found this post helpful, please share it on social media to help others who may be looking for tips on composting in cold weather.

Thank you for reading!

Author: Scott Sanders


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